Faulty US Covid-19 response meant 130,000 to 210,000 avoidable deaths, report finds

A medic prepares to transfer a patient on a stretcher from an ambulance outside of Emergency at Coral Gables Hospital where Coronavirus patients are treated in Coral Gables near Miami, on July 30, 2020.

The Trump Administration's faltering response to the coronavirus pandemic has led to anywhere between 130,000 and 210,000 deaths that could have been prevented, according to a report released Thursday by a team of disaster preparedness experts.

Insufficient testing, a lack of national mask mandates or guidance, a delayed overall response and outright mocking of basic public health practices by the administration has put the United States at the top of the global coronavirus death toll, the report from Columbia University Earth Institute's National Center for Disaster Preparedness finds.

"We estimate that at least 130,000 deaths and perhaps as many as 210,000 could have been avoided with earlier policy interventions and more robust federal coordination and leadership," the report reads.

"Even with the dramatic recent appearance of new COVID-19 waves globally, the abject failures of U.S. government policies and crisis messaging persist, U.S. fatalities have remained disproportionately high throughout the pandemic when compared to even other high-mortality countries," it adds.

"The inability of the U.S. to mitigate the pandemic is especially stark when contrasted with the response of high income nations, such as South Korea, Japan, Australia, Germany, France, and Canada, as well as low- and middle-income countries as varied as Thailand, Pakistan, Honduras, and Malaysia. All of these nations have had greater success in protecting their populations from the impact of the coronavirus."

According to Johns Hopkins University, the US has tallied more than 8.3 million coronavirus cases and more than 222,000 deaths.

"The data establishes that a significant number of lives could have been saved if the Trump administration acted on the advice from the scientific and public health community," said Dr. Irwin Redlener, founding director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia. "As the country faces a second wave of this virus, we need to hold leadership accountable. The magnitude of loss, caused by a disorganized response, will have devastating and long-lasting consequences for millions of American families."

When measured by deaths per 100,000 population, the report calculates that the US mortality rate is 50 times higher than Japan's, and more than twice as high as Canada's. "Although both the U.S. and South Korea confirmed their first case of coronavirus on January 20th, South Korea was able to institute an aggressive diagnostic testing strategy and isolate infected patients, leading to a proportional mortality rate today that is 78 times smaller than that of the United States," the report reads.

"From the moment the pandemic was first identified, President Trump and his team have downplayed the crisis and ignored basic and widely known public health guidelines to curb the spread of COVID-19," said Jeffrey Sachs, a professor of health policy and management at Columbia.

"To stop the ongoing epidemic in the U.S., it is urgent to examine the available data, identify the failures, call out the Administration's relentless misinformation, and hold the Trump Administration accountable for its failure to slow the virus's spread and the more than 200,000 lives that have been unnecessarily lost."

The research team compared the US response to the policies in other countries. If the US had followed the policies and protocols of Australia, as few as 11,699 people may have died, the report estimates.

Following Japan's policies would have led to as few as 4,315 deaths in the US, the Columbia team calculated. Even France did better and had the US followed France's lead, 162,240 Americans would have died -- around 60,000 fewer than the current total.

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